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Operation Dynamo: The Miracle at Dunkirk

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Monday, January 24, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0200
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$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member
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German aircraft strafed and bombed soldiers awaiting evacuation from Dunkirk beaches

The 2017 Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk was a rousing success and presented an eager audience with the famous evacuation of British forces from France in May and June 1940. But absent in the film’s telling of the story is the historical context, argues Kevin J. Weddle, a professor of military theory and strategy at the U.S. Army War College. There is much more to Dunkirk, and its lead-up and aftermath are just as exciting as the evacuation itself.

Operation Dynamo was the result of flawed Allied planning and strategy combined with bold German execution in the weeks prior to the evacuation. The Germans were able to modify their war plans to exploit French vulnerabilities and their commanders on the ground executed that plan with great vigor. A lack of Allied imagination and an inability to react to the new tactical realities led to the Dunkirk operation. 

Weddle examines the planning and execution of the desperate boatlift—which saved most of the British Expeditionary Force to fight again—and analyzes its overall strategic impact on the continuing war effort. The full picture of Operation Dynamo is a mix of perseverance, hope, tragedy, chance, and deliverance, but despite its success, Winston Churchill, the new British prime minister, warned his countrymen that “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.